Interview With A Ceremony | Tobacco Is the Stolen Property of Another Culture !
©2008 Turtle Heart
The sacred tobacco of the Creek and Catabwa Nations was the power, the natural plant, that enabled the transition from the sacred morning tobacco fire to the sacred pipe (and eventually to cigarettes). The sacred morning tobacco fire is nearly the most ancient of all the sacred rites of the tobacco tribes (American Indians). It is tens of thousands of years old. Get it? This was the beginning, the “genesis” of tobacco. It went from there to that marlboro you are sucking on right now. Tobacco has become a slave, an imprisoned entity. A life form in enslavement. One of the most powerful plants in the history of the world. To the Original People whose religious property this Tobacco was, it had the status of “person”, not “object”.
Television Italian style stopped by for a few surprises last week. On both sides. Italian RAI 3, their public television equivalent I think, asked to talk with me about Tobacco and Smoking. The show, Terzo Pianeta, will broadcast at 9 pm CET on 9 February 2008. They sent two young men. One a charming and quiet Anthropologist who has a passion for research among the Shamans of Nepal. The other a director|cameraman|sound|chiefOrganizer, a combination of geek, director and actor that fits well into an independent package. I told them up front that they would have to undergo a purification ceremony before we could talk about or look at the sacred objects and talk about tobacco in any meaningful way. They agreed to this so we took one full day and a sweat lodge later, and then the three of us spoke modestly about the sacred nature of Tobacco for the record. My comments will be part of the segment about "Smoke".
From time to time I believe it is important to have some sort of record about the ceremonies. Like the New York Times. Sometimes it is good to speak for the record. I took this opportunity to set out each and every part of the Sacred Four Directions Unity Bundle. This bundle contains the sacred objects of many cultures, the center of it being a sacred pipe. I thought it would be ok to let a small record be made of the bundle. Their camera, and their own human eyes, saw maybe 10 per cent of what was before them, but we had only a few moments really. The whole segment I did with them will be edited to 6 minutes or maybe a little more….or they may decide not to use it. I hope that we made the ceremony a part of the interview, interview with a ceremony let’s call it….I felt more like Little Otter Boy and not so much like Police Dog.
When you talk to the media you are at their mercy. In the digital age a video clip is forever if it wants to be. It can be edited out of context and even changed with common software. Words are even easier to change I guess. Maybe we are all more honest than we allow ourselves. The name of the show is “Terzo Pianeta”. I allowed some filming in the sweat lodge, and this included a small light. It was a little interesting for me to be singing and making the ceremony, while a part of me, the corners of my eyes I could see what is going on, see the stones receive the water and watch the steam roll around and see it as it speaks to our bodies. These two men did a good job, behaved with modesty, respect and intelligence. I don’t mention their names because I want to respect their privacy. If the work we did is broadcast it will then be a part of the great “public record”. I enjoyed the experience and felt satisfied that from time to time the waiting world should see what the wabeno is doing. Knowledge is power. Information is progress. Sometimes a good picture is an important message for someone far away in either time or space. I believe that. Art has spoken to me from across time and cultures and has affected my choices in life. In general the tribal elders do not want photography of any of the ceremonies. I feel the same way. I would never allow casual photography of ceremonies or their objects as a rule. However, as a student of history, and as a keeper of records, which is part of what a bundle is, I feel there are moments when exceptions can be made. I can only hope it goes somewhere in the neighborhood of my intentions. I believe some photographic documentation can be helpful, sometimes. This seemed to be one of those times. Depending on what, if anything, happens after, we may have a new era of open possibilities or another decade of silence in this regards.
The Sacred Four Directions Unity Bundle is alive and in motion. We put tobacco into our sacred fires here on Pantelleria and in the other places where we have fires on the earth to receive tobacco. I tried to explain to the television a relationship between the little tobacco fire and this sacred pipe and these cigarettes that the waiting world puffs on every second of the day.
The power to stand freely upon the earth in a sacred manner is in fact who and what an American Indian is. Everything else is politics and genetics. If I hear these words about who might me an Indian and what they might be saying out loud, that is always what I look for. Evidence of this relationship with the sacred earth, with the mystery life, with the elders. Tobacco is that relationship with those who have gone before us, to show us the way, “in the smoke”.